Every champion in MMA history started out somewhere.

For those who make it to the highest stage, the journey begins long before they strap on UFC or Bellator gloves. Modern-era fighters progress through the regional ranks with hopes of accomplishing the highest accolades. Many will try, few will succeed.

This month, five fighters on the verge of achieving major promotion notoriety – one for the second time – return to the cage for what could be their stepping stone fight. There are dozens of fighters close to making the jump in the coming weeks, but these five are particularly exemplary.

This month:

An Aljamain Sterling protege hopes his first regional promotional title defense gets him his fourth win – and a UFC opportunity.
A James Krause underling continues his journey to become the first Uganda-born fighter in UFC history.
A rising North Carolina-based featherweight aims to add another win to his streak and catch the eyes of a major promotion, too.
Weeks after an unfortunate ending to his Dana White’s Contender Series opportunity, a Brazilian featherweight hopes to erase any doubt he’s UFC-ready when he competes for a Fury FC title.
A wrestling-based fighter who trains at AKA with Khabib Nurmagomedov hopes to keep his winning streak alive at new weight class – and get the finish he’s been seeking.

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